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May 29, 2018

New discovery adds fourth ferromagnetic element to the periodic table

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Of all the elements on Earth, only iron, cobalt and nickel form permanent magnets at room temperature.

Until now.

Through research published May 25, 2018, in the journal Nature Communications, a multi-university team of researchers has added an unprecedented fourth metal with those unique properties—ruthenium—to the periodic table.

The findings could open the door to magnetic memory devices that resist oxidation and are stable at high temperatures—much-desired features for computer processor cores.

The ability to form a permanent magnet is called ferromagnetism, and a team of researchers led by Jian-Ping Wang, the Robert F. Hartmann professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota, coaxed the element ruthenium to become ferromagnetic by growing ultrathin films of the metal. That thin-film growth forced the metal’s crystal structure into a ferromagnetic conformation. To measure the ruthenium thin-film’s magnetic properties, Paul Voyles, the Beckwith-Bascom Professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, deployed an advanced analysis technique called scanning tunneling electron microscopy. Based on these promising results, the scientists plan to explore whether other elements might be amenable to similar manipulations.

“The ability to manipulate and characterize matter at the atomic scale is the cornerstone of modern information technology,” says Voyles.